48 hours ago, I was getting back from a dismal home opener. Thewere 2-6 and looked the part, and to make matters worse, they were looking ahead to the following two matchups:
Brett Anderson vs. Doug Fister
Gio Gonzalez vs. Jason Vargas
The Mariners had their emergency starter slotted to go up against one of the better young arms in the world, and they had their fifth starter slotted to go up against a lefty with a mid-90s fastball and a strikeout rate north of a batter an inning.
At 2-6, the Mariners faced a very good chance of ending up 2-8. Yesterday was an obvious mismatch, and tonight you still had to give Oakland the edge, because Gonzalez is electric. 2-8, of course, wouldn't be the end of the world, because there would still be 152 games remaining in the season, but, 2-8? When the division leader is 8-2?
Six games back in the middle of April is a massive, massive hole, and one out of which I doubt the M's could recover. I didn't want to acknowledge it after the opener, because the season was still entirely too new, but as I looked ahead to the next two games against Oakland, I couldn't help but think, man, we could be in trouble. If those two pitching matchups played out as expected, the Mariners' playoff odds would take a pen knife to the jugular.
But look where we are now. Fister was brilliant. Vargas was brilliant. The Mariners hit Anderson, they hit Gonzalez, and they hit the bullpen. They didn't hit them a lot, mind you, but they didn't have to, because the pitching was spectacular, with the result being a pair of big wins. It's incredible how much different 4-6 feels from 2-8 and even 3-7. At 3-7, the M's are four games back. At 4-6, the gap's only two, with Felix set to take on thethis Friday in front of a mammoth crowd.
These two wins haven't erased the memory of what came before, but with the off day tomorrow, they've made it feel like a whole new season, with Felix throwing the opener. It's difficult to overstate just how psychologically important these wins really were. Lose both and everyone freaks out. Split and people remain nervous and cynical. Take them and the excitement comes back. This is a pretty good team. They are going to win a lot of games. And they're only just getting started.
I wasn't able to follow much of tonight's game, but what a big outing for Vargas. Through two solid starts, now, he's got a walk and 11 strikeouts. The A's took 12 swings against his changeup, and eight of them whiffed. Vargas doesn't yet qualify as a dependable starter, but he's taken some steps on the path, and you have to love what we've seen as he puts his lost 2008 further behind him. He's an asset.
And Milton Bradley? It would've been easy for Bradley to go from hero right back to goat after his early and embarrassing baserunning screw-up, but he delivered a critical two-run single that more than made up for his gaffe. So, rather than focusing on a poorly-timed mental mistake, the dialogue will now be about how Bradley is coming around and helping the offense.
In short, these two wins against Oakland have allowed everyone to go into the offday with good feelings, feelings that to date have been few and far between. Do the Mariners find themselves in a good position? No, they don't, but they find themselves in the best position possible given what happened two days ago, and that's progress. Maybe it's just the NHL playoffs talking, but what a pleasant Wednesday it's been.